Over-wintering large, flowering tropical plants like Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is always a challenge. They never thrive in the living room the way they do outdoors. Leaves turn yellow and drop, flowers seldom appear. Assorted pests do appear — in droves. No wonder gardeners dream of exiling these shrubs to the basement, where they can be out of sight and out of mind until spring.
This kind of hibiscus never sleeps, however, and trying to store yours as though it were dormant may give you a rude awakening. If you want to try it anyway, keep the plants cool, 45º to 50ºF. Expect them to drop all their leaves. They will likely get bugs. And they will still need to be brought into light well before summer planting time.
A better choice is a room that gets lots of light and is cool enough to slow growth, 60º to 65º. If you must put hibiscus plants in the living room, keep them in the sunniest place, away from direct heat and far enough from the window so they don’t suffer big temperature swings from night to day. There is no point in misting, but if you don’t have a humidifier this would be a good excuse to get one. Keep the soil barely but consistently moist, and don’t feed unless flowers appear. Watch out for aphids, whiteflies, and red spider mites. If you see them, treat promptly with insecticidal soap.
Hibiscus is tough. The plants will not be glorious inside, but they will survive. Cut them back in late April, removing leggy branches and working to create a pleasing shape. New growth should start almost at once. It is tempting to set the plants out as soon as the danger of frost is past, but hibiscus is a heat lover that will be happier inside until it is warm out day and night — late May or early June.
Alternatively, treat hibiscus as an annual indulgence. While they are still beautiful, give your plants to somebody with big windows and no qualms about getting rid of ailing ornamentals. Enjoy a carefree winter, and get new ones next year.
I have a neighbor that loves his yard work. He’s out cutting the grass, trimming around the sidewalks, and blowing away the debris at least 3 nights each week. I’m incredibly aware of this because of the noise that continues for about 2 hours. Despite all of this work, I’m sorry to say that his lawn is not the beautiful carpet that he wishes it to be. Like many homeowners, he makes the mistake of cutting his grass too short and too frequently. Coupled with the use of non-organic fertilizer (which creates very short roots in the grass, thereby drying out rapidly in between rains), mowing too often or putting your mower blades too low creates a lawn that struggles to survive when the sun gets hot and the rain clouds fail to appear.
The University of Illinois Extension has created a nice one-page guideline for mowing lawns properly. Click here to read it.
Tired of the same old fruits and vegetables? Looking for a new challenge? Maybe you could try making your own gin. The plant you need is the common juniper, Juniperuscommunis. Although the drink is a Dutch invention — the word ‘gin’ is a corruption of the Dutch name for juniper — the British embraced it with great enthusiasm in the eighteenth century and turned it into a major business.
Although common juniper is a single species, this shrubby evergreen varies widely in its growing patterns, from a ground cover to a tree that tops 36 feet. The growing needs of the cultivars are equally various, but almost all of them are tough customers that will adapt to a wide range of soils and climate zones.
Various parts of the pungently aromatic plants have long been used medicinally and are mentioned in countless legends, primarily as aids for warding off evil spirits. But it is the plant’s berries that provide an essential ingredient in gin (as well as providing flavoring for marinades and sauces).
Juniper with both ripe and unripe berries
Male and female flowers are borne on separate plants, so you must have both if you want berries. The 1/4-inch fruit take two years to ripen, turning from green to bluish purple. Both the immature and mature berries may appear on the plant simultaneously, so take care when you gather your harvest.
Junipers grow easily as long as the soil they are in is well drained. While at their best in dry, sunny spots, they will tolerate light shade. Nobody’s perfect, though, and junipers are favorite prey for a number of pests and diseases. Before you buy one that catches your fancy, ask the nursery about its ability to fight off these afflictions.
Harvesting juniper berries: Juniper berries should be harvested when they have ripened to a handsome, dark purple-blue. Ripe and unripe berries may be on the plant at the same time, but harvest only the ripe ones. Before you add the berries to your soups or stews, air-dry them until they shrivel and turn black.
by Diana Alfuth, horticulture educator for Pierce & St. Croix County UW-Extension
It may seem like summer only started yesterday, but in northern Wisconsin, the time to watch for first frost is right around the corner. Whether you gave your houseplants a summer vacation outdoors, or have some nice container plantings you’d like to enjoy indoors for a while, keep your eye on the weather and bring the plants in before they experience chilling or frost injury.
Before you bring them in, clean off any dead or dying foliage. Look under the leaves and on top of the soil for any insects, pupae or other critters that may be hunkered down in the container. Even small frogs have been known to hitchhike indoors, and go hopping across the floor! Quarantine plants for a few days. Wasps or other insects emerge in the warmth of the house, and pests such as aphids, can spread to other houseplants.
Even though you put the plants in front of bright, sunny windows, shorter days and weaker sun will cause all houseplants to slow down growth for the winter. Therefore, don’t fertilize (which may encourage spindly growth) until late February, when a plant’s activity increases, and water only when the top half-inch of soil gets dry. You can expect some leaf drop as the plants adjust to the lower light conditions. Pinch plants back when growth picks up again in late winter to encourage bushy, robust plants, ready to enjoy inside or outside next summer!
Oh, those delicious spears are one of the great harbingers of Spring in Wisconsin, and it’s a bit heartbreaking when it’s time to draw the harvest to a close! From Diana Alfuth, horticulture educator for Pierce & St. Croix County UW-Extension in Wisconsin, comes the following advice for caring for your asparagus patch.
“You should stop harvesting when the emerging spears are about the diameter of a pencil; this will give the crowns time to rejuvenate for next year’s harvest.
When harvesting is over, fertilize according to soil test results, or with a complete fertilizer such as a 10-10-10, to replenish nutrients used during the harvest season. Let the ferns grow to collect sunlight and restore the root system. In fall, once the ferns have yellowed, cut them back and dispose of them to prevent overwintering of asparagus beetles and rust, two of our most common asparagus pests.
Top-dress your patch with compost or another mulch to reduce weeds. You can eliminate perennial weeds such as quackgrass, with glyphosate (Roundup). For a small patch, put on a rubber glove, then a cloth glove over that. Wet the fingers of the cloth glove with glyphosate and wipe it on the grass blades, avoiding contact with the asparagus. The herbicide will go into the blade and down to the roots, killing the weed, but not harming the asparagus. Tedious, but very effective. If you have a large patch you can try spraying glyphosate in late fall after you’ve cut back the ferns, or in early spring before spears have emerged.”
Diana Alfuth, horticulture educator for Pierce & St. Croix County UW-Extension, teaches the master gardener program and is a frequent speaker throughout the region about gardening and sustainable landscaping. She is a regular guest on WEAU-TV and teaches landscape design at UW-River Falls.